Taking the PISA – or how dodgy data was used to support breakneck education reform

Janet Downs's picture

Nearly five years ago my Christmas shopping was interrupted by a Daily Mail headline: Travesty of our Stagnating Schools. This ‘damning indictment’ of British education under Labour contained a graph showing plummeting PISA scores between 2000 and 2009. I’d never heard of PISA – until that day I thought it was a leaning tower.

So I started to dig. I found PISA stood for Programme for International Student Assessment administered by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. I found PISA results for 2009 but not those for 2000. I also discovered the UK Briefing Paper accompanying the 2009 results. And it contained a prominent warning saying the 2000 and 2003 UK results hadn’t met response standards and shouldn’t be used for comparison with 2009. I also found a DfE research brief dated December 2010 warning the data wasn’t comparable.

But many papers were comparing PISA 2000 with 2009. Was it deliberate deception? Or an honest mistake? And where had the graph come from? I dug some more. And I found the source. It was a press release from the Department of Education. There was the graph. There were quotes from the Briefing Paper. How was it possible they missed the warning on top of the first page? And there was a comment from Education Secretary Michael Gove: ‘Today’s PISA report underlines the urgent need to reform our school system.’ But they did no such thing. The comparison was false.

I contacted FullFact. They covered the story and wrote to the DfE for an explanation. I found this site and wrote my first article. I wrote to my MP. FullFact and I eventually received an flimsy explanation early in 2011. The DfE had used a report from Southampton University published in 2006 which suggested the bias in 2000 made little difference to the results. But the Southampton report contained a caveat: their research was ‘neither the last word’ in analysing the response pattern to PISA 2000 or 2003. Nor was it ‘comprehensive in its analysis of actual or potential adjustments to the data for response bias’. And an OECD spokesperson told FullFact ‘the Southampton report doesn’t directly address the issue of comparability between 2000 and 2006.” The response bias wasn't the main reason the PISA Technical Advisory Group cautioned against long-term comparisons in the data, FullFact wrote.

So Gove, other Tory politicians and much of the media kept on repeating the dodgy data. In October 2012, two years later, the UK Statistics Authority expressed concern about DfE use of these figures. Most politicians and most papers got the message. But a few continued to use the zombie statistics. Incredibly, Education Secretary Nicky Morgan repeated the discredited figures in her CBI speech this month.

It could be argued it doesn’t matter what politicians say, it’s what they do that counts. But this deception underpinned all education reform of the last few years. It was the theory behind the practice. It was the justification for the breakneck speed of reform. So it matters. It’s been suggested in comments on another thread that Gove might just have made an error. But I don’t buy that. Problems with the 2000 data were known in 2006 – Southampton University’s report discussed them. In 2007, Channel 4 Factcheck criticised Gove, then shadow Education Secretary, for quoting the flawed data in the Commons: ‘In 2000 too few schools took part in the survey, and in 2003, too few students took part... Result: UK data from before 2006 aren't reliable, and can't be accurately compared.’

Factcheck gave Gove’s Commons statement a score of 4/5 where 5 indicates no basis in truth. It concluded: ‘So a man of Gove's legendary intelligence really has no excuse for trotting out these obviously misleading stats one more time.’ But the trotting didn’t stop – it speeded up into a gallop. A constant repetition of the fiction that the UK was ‘plummeting’ down league tables. Based on a false comparison. A deception. A myth – one that’s been blasted. Somebody tell Nicky Morgan.

More myths are exposed in our newly-published LSN book The Truth About Our Schools: Exploding the Myths, Exploring the Evidence. It can be ordered here. More details here.

UPDATE 30 November 2015, 11.38am From Commons Library Blog, FAQs re PISA tests written by Paul Bolton, author of the House Of Commons' 'Statistical literacy guide: How to spot spin and inappropriate use of statistics' 'So are we getting better or worse [in PISA tests]? Neither. Performance in all three subjects was broadly similar in 2006, 2009 and 2012.' 'I heard that our performance had fallen since 2000. Is that true? The UK’s 2000 and 2003 samples did not meet minimum response-rates, “…so data from the United Kingdom cannot be used for comparisons.”' It appears that neither Nicky Morgan nor Nick Gibb have read this item from the Commons Library. Perhaps they should also read Bolton's guide to the inappropriate use of statistics.


FOOTNOTE:  Formatting updated 26 October 2019 to reinstate paragraph breaks.

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Andrew Old's picture
Fri, 27/11/2015 - 19:30

You seem utterly unable to see differences of opinion as being about anything other than dishonesty. You claim that quoting a research report with a caveat is somehow terrible dishonesty (even though virtually every research report ever written has caveats), yet you have not even distinguished between the comparability of the PISA scores, and the comparability of the rankings derived from the PISA scores, something utterly fundamental to any discussion of movement down league tables.

I have limited confidence in PISA scores. Perhaps all the claims politicians make about them are best ignored. But if the claim is that the DfE is being deliberately dishonest then I think you need to be considerably more straightforward in your own arguments.

Guest's picture
Fri, 27/11/2015 - 19:59

This is what Andreas Schleicher, the coordinator of PISA, said in an email to Jeevan Vasagar (quoted in the Guardian) when Vasagar asked him whether the UK PISA data for 2000 should be discounted: “It is hard to derive any interpretation of these data that wouldn’t imply a decline in the relative standing of the UK internationally.”

Janet Downs's picture
Sat, 28/11/2015 - 09:57

Guest - I don't know if you're the same 'Guest' who has mentioned this before. Whether you are or not, I'll refer you to my comments on this thread, 10/12/13 5.31pm and 11/12/13 7.52am. To summarise:

1 Schleicher implied a 'decline in the relative standing of the UK'. That's not the same as plummeting down league tables.

2 PISA data from 2006 and 2009 does show a decline in relative standing but more countries took part. UK score remained the same.

In 2012 (after the Schleicher comment to Vasagar) PISA results for the UK showed a slight rise in relative standing in maths and reading together with a slight rise in score. Relative standing in science declined but score remained the same. That said, the UK still performs significantly above the OECD average in Science. More details here.

Guest's picture
Sat, 28/11/2015 - 11:10

So Andreas Schleicher is saying that you can interpret the data and use it to show the UK's decline.
As even you acknowledge 2006 and 2009 also show a decline.
It is therefore strange that you attack any education secretary for highlighting this decline as it is clear for all to see.

There is nothing dishonest about highlighting this decline.

Why do you keep saying this data cannot be used when AS says it can be ? Whi is really being dishonest here and attempting to twist the truth?

Andrew Old's picture
Sun, 29/11/2015 - 10:41

"Schleicher implied a ‘decline in the relative standing of the UK’. That’s not the same as plummeting down league tables."

Actually, it pretty much is. Or rather the difference is only one of tone and subjective opinion, not fact. You have gone from claiming deliberate dishonesty, to picking fault with the wording.

Janet Downs's picture
Sun, 29/11/2015 - 11:16

Yet here we have a report drafted by Andreas Schleicher in 2006 which says:

'The PISA 2000 and PISA 2003 samples for the United Kingdom did not meet the PISA response rate standards and so data from the United Kingdom are not comparable with other countries.' (page 284)

and another, which gives the contact as Andreas Schleicher, which says

'(The PISA 2000 and 2003 samples for the United Kingdom did not meet the PISA response-rate standards, so the observed higher performance in 2000 should not be used for comparisons.) (paragraph 2)

Some mismatch with the remark to the Guardian, then?

Janet Downs's picture
Sun, 29/11/2015 - 09:07

UK Statistics Watchdog, October 2012: concerned about DfE press release of 7/12/10. It was not accompanied by ‘detailed advice’ or warnings to help readers made comparisons over time. The implications of an increase in the number of participants in PISA should have been be noted (they weren't). (See full letter downloadable here.)

Janet Downs's picture
Sun, 29/11/2015 - 09:09

UK Statistics Watchdog, October 2012: readers might misunderstand trend comparisons if they were presented without the above warnings. (The DfE provided no such caveats.)

These were not just a ‘technical footnote’ but were important parts of the evidence - they ‘affect interpretation and meaning’, the Watchdog said.

Janet Downs's picture
Sun, 29/11/2015 - 09:10

UK Statistics Watchdog, October 2012: PISA data was contradicted by other evidence including the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS). The watchdog concluded:

‘…it may be difficult to treat an apparent decline in secondary school pupils’ performance as "a statistically robust result"'

Janet Downs's picture
Sun, 29/11/2015 - 09:49

The Southampton researchers, whose report was used by the DfE to justify use of the 2000 PISA data, said England had had a problem in both years with achieving both school and pupil response levels which would satisfy the OECD.

The pupil response rate in 2003, the report found, was close to (but did not reach) the acceptable level. In 2000, the pupil response rate (81%) just exceeded the acceptable threshold (80%).

The OECD was initially concerned about the school response rate in 2000 but secured ‘evidence’ about the ‘characteristics of responding schools’. This satisfied the OECD at the time and it included the figures in the 2000 UK results.

But when similar problems emerged in 2003, the OECD looked again at the 2000 results and declared they were flawed. That is why it said they should NOT be used for comparison.

Janet Downs's picture
Sun, 29/11/2015 - 10:00

The DfE seized on the 81% pupil response rate in 2000 to justify using the data (ignoring the fact that the school response rate didn’t meet acceptable levels).

The OECD rejected the Southampton analysis (see above) saying it didn’t ‘directly address the issue of comparability between 2000 and 2006’. There were other reasons, the OECD said, for the data not being comparable.

My understanding is this is because the pupils who took part in PISA 2000 and 2003 did so in the third term of Year 11. This clashed with preparation for GCSE so England was given permission for PISA tests to be taken in the Autumn not the Spring. This meant pupils were taking the tests in the first term of Year 11 and hadn’t, therefore, received as much education as those who took the test two terms later. The OECD decided it was, therefore, inaccurate to compare later results with the two earlier ones.

Guest's picture
Sun, 29/11/2015 - 10:35

That is all very interesting, however as the owner of all the data from 2000, 2003 and 2006 states “It is hard to derive any interpretation of these data that wouldn’t imply a decline in the relative standing of the UK internationally.”

Can you acknowledge that ? 2003 and 2006 also emphasis a decline.

It is this decline of the UK that the Education Secretary is highlighting and addressing.

You may think its ok to stagnate and decline, others feel the need to highlight this and take action.

I am not sure why you feel the need to dismiss anyone mentioning this decline and try to make the data the story - it is not.

Andrew Old's picture
Sun, 29/11/2015 - 10:39

This would all be good stuff if you were simply suggesting there was some debate over technical details. However, you claimed actual dishonesty. Yet, all you actually show is disagreement on technical matters.

Janet Downs's picture
Sun, 29/11/2015 - 10:32

It appears Nick Gibb is taking the PISA. In a speech on 20 Jan 2015 he cited the 2000 results for the UK and noted the 2006 results (published 2007) had shafted the 'rosy picture' of 2000 (published 2001). He noted the 2003 results had not been acceptable but forgot to mention the 2000 results had been redacted. He made the false comparison which OECD had said should not be made.

Guest's picture
Sun, 29/11/2015 - 11:43

His remark in Guardian came later and he states “It is hard to derive any interpretation of these data that wouldn’t imply a decline in the relative standing of the UK internationally.”

So the only conclusion you can derive, no matter how hard you try, is a decline.

Janet Downs's picture
Sun, 29/11/2015 - 12:12

Gove ignored the OECD warning not to use the 2000 UK data. So did Lord Hill and Lord Nash. So did other politicians and much of the media. So did Cameron and Clegg who both signed the foreword to The Schools White Paper 2010 which compared 2000 with 2006.

And, despite the UK Statistics Watchdog's concern, Nick Gibb and Nicky Morgan have repeated the redacted data.

And those who trumpet a 'decline' as if education in England were in freefall, they forget that the decline was in 'relative' ranking not in scores. And this, as the UK Stats Watchdog has made clear, should be viewed in the context of more countries taking part. The actual data is here:

'Between 2006 and 2009 there was a relative fall in ranking from 17th to 25th in reading, 23rd to 28th for maths, and 14th to 17th in 2009 for science. But more countries took part in the 2009 tests – 65 compared with 58 in 2006. However, there is little statistical difference between the 2006 and 2009 scores.'

And even that statistic, viewed as 'plummeting' down league tables, hides the fact that the UK scored at the OECD average for reading and maths, and ABOVE average in science.

The 2012 results saw a slight rise in UK relative ranking in maths and reading but a decline in science. The UK is still ranked in the top tier of countries for science (middle tier for reading and maths).

But Morgan and Gibb continue to use the redacted data.

Are we to believe this is all an honest mistake? When the flaws have been known sinc 2006? When Channel 4 Factcheck in 2007 said a man of Gove's obvious intelligence should stop trotting out this dodgy data? When the warning not to use it has been repeated by the OECD, by academics and the UK Stats Watchdog?

I believe the use of this data is calculated and deliberate to justify education reforms made by the Coalition and proposed by this Government.

Andrew Old's picture
Sun, 29/11/2015 - 12:23

Why are you repeating this stuff?

Janet Downs's picture
Sun, 29/11/2015 - 12:23

Guest - Schleicher's Guardian remark was report on 7 December 2011. Here's the link which you didn't bother to give. It was in an article describing a report by Dr John Jerrim of the IoE which cast doubt on the 'plummeting' down league tables narrative.

The second OECD report I cited described the 2012 results. It could hardly have been written before 2011.

Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 30/11/2015 - 11:35

UPDATE: From Commons Library Blog, FAQs re PISA tests written by Paul Bolton, author of the House Of Commons' 'Statistical literacy guide: How to spot spin and inappropriate use of statistics'

'So are we getting better or worse?

Neither. Performance in all three subjects was broadly similar in 2006, 2009 and 2012

'I heard that our performance had fallen since 2000. Is that true?

The UK’s 2000 and 2003 samples did not meet minimum response-rates, “…so data from the United Kingdom cannot be used for comparisons.”'

It appears that neither Nicky Morgan nor Nick Gibb have read this item from the Commons Library. Perhaps they should also read Bolton's guide to the inappropriate use of statistics.

Andrew Old's picture
Mon, 30/11/2015 - 11:56

So? The problem here is that you claimed one side of the argument were dishonest. It doesn't matter how many people you find taking the other side in the argument, you have still over-reached.

For what it's worth, I don't think the comparisons with 2000 are accurate. I just don't think that people who disagree with me on this are dishonest, unlike, say, phonics denialists or people who claim all or most teachers agree with their ideology.

Barry Wise's picture
Mon, 30/11/2015 - 12:06

Michael Gove and his Conservative allies began using the 'plummeting down the league tables' narrative while in opposition as a counter to an equally dodgy narrative of constant improvement coming from the then Labour government, a narrative subsequently exposed for what it really was: grade inflation.

I know saying 'they're all at it' doesn't make it right. But the political context is always worth bearing in mind. There is no moral high ground in Westminster.

Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 30/11/2015 - 12:34

Barry - agreed, but countering one deception with another is what brings politicians into disrepute and leaves them open to accusations of dishonesty. For what it's worth, I exposed Labour deceit about academies here.

That said, this Government and the last built their entire education reform programme on the 'plummeting' down league tables fiction. Morgan and Gibb still continue to do so.

agov's picture
Mon, 30/11/2015 - 14:06

No. She claimed a side were dishonest particularly in relation to the trivial point you fixated on (- again?). On many occasions she has said that the other (i.e. NuLab) side were dishonest. Good to know you agree on the substantive point - well done.

Just in case you don't know, opinion polls in the past, if memory serves, consistently showed that most teachers vote Conservative. 'For what it's worth', my experience of 'Labour' teachers is that they mostly only emerge when they want support for a pay rise - wasn't it such an event that led to you revealing yourself to be, incredibly, a member of (the remnants of) the Labour Party? - at which point Mr Gove stopped praising you: is that the correct sequence of events?

Andrew Old's picture
Mon, 30/11/2015 - 14:19

Not right on any point as far as I can tell. And I'm not sure what most of it has to do with anything. The question is whether it is dishonest to use the 2000 PISA figures in comparisons.

agov's picture
Tue, 01/12/2015 - 12:33

No. A question is whether the government is dishonest to uncritically use the 2000 PISA figures in comparisons to support its ideological restructuring of the education system when it has repeatedly been made aware of the defects. Why would anyone suppose the government is not being dishonest? What did you think this was about? -


It's hard to credit that anyone would still really see the DfE as a reliable source of factual information. Those days are gone. Were the government not integrity avoiders they would be giving more attention to other analysis suggesting PISA rankings are valueless and questioning more or less the entire basis of PISA (as can easily be found on Wikipedia).

But apparently, for one reason or another, you agree that the PISA comparisons are not accurate. It rather seems you just have a problem with anyone who believes your lost admirers in the Conservative party are being dishonest. "A lie is the intention to deceive" as Enoch Powell said. Perhaps you have other inside information on what the government might otherwise intend by its dogmatic pronouncements.

Michael Pyke's picture
Tue, 01/12/2015 - 17:19

True, Barry but surely the point here is that the invalid PISA results were used to justify government policies which don't and can't make any difference to our standing in PISA. One obvious example is the promotion of "free" schools. These have been running in Sweden for over fifteen years, during which time Sweden really can be described as having "plummeted" down the PISA tables. "Free" schools may or may not have helped to cause this decline but they certainly haven't arrested it. Yet PISA was used to justify their introduction here!

You said on another thread that international comparisons have to be treated with caution, and I completely agree, but the characteristics of the most successful systems are beginning to be identified, regardless of cultural differences. These seem to be

i) an emphasis on the need to provide high quality education to all children, rather than focus upon an elite group;
ii) a major investment in the recruitment, education, professional training and continuing professional development of school teachers;
iii) a curricular emphasis upon creativity and problem solving, rather than upon the acquiring of knowledge by rote learning.

It is very difficult to see how any of Gove's "reforms" relate to these characteristics.

Barry Wise's picture
Tue, 01/12/2015 - 18:11


I don't claim to be an expert on quite what the political motive for any particular policy was under the last gov or any other, but I don't think the free school policy had much to do with PISA. I recall two main arguments for free schools : one based on equity said that free schools would allow economically disadvantaged families access to schools with the same sort of combination of high expectations + traditional pedagogy + strict discipline + Ebacc curriculum that the seriously wealthy got at independent schools and the slightly less wealthy got either by living in areas with selective schools or by paying extra for a house in the catchment of a good comprehensive.
The second argument was based on pluralism: that free schools would allow a thousand styles of pedagogy from the coolly innovative to the weird and wacky, taking in previously underserved niche faith groups such as Sikhs, Rud0lf Steiner followers to leading-edge Blairite modernism at Skool 21.

I have rather less difficulty than you do seeing how Gove’s reforms were intended to dovetail with the identified characteristics of successful school systems.

i) an emphasis on the need to provide high quality education to all children, rather than focus upon an elite group;

Pre-Gove, the Tories would be interested in private schools and Grammar schools and not much else. Under Gove, the focus did switch to schools that served all children, not just economic or intellectual front-runners.

ii) a major investment in the recruitment, education, professional training and continuing professional development of school teachers

Teach First, Future Leaders and various research-led CPD initiatives flourished under Gove. High calibre graduates started to try teaching in serious numbers. Masters degrees were encouraged. The present cohort of teachers is arguably the best qualified ever. Finland led the way. We have started to follow.

iii) a curricular emphasis upon creativity and problem solving, rather than upon the acquiring of knowledge by rote learning.

We’ve never really done rote learning and don’t do it now. Gove was smeared on this, but we all know that was just politics. In truth he never did advocate a Gradgrind education. Learning by heart is anyway now recognized to be useful. Gove’s exam reforms were theoretically supposed to lead to deep learning and the new curriculum majors on problem solving….. blah blah blah.

Nobody’s perfect, but to be fair to Gove I think he tried to find policies that did match the ‘best systems’ template. The problem is – that’s not enough.

Michael Pyke's picture
Tue, 01/12/2015 - 20:16

Certainly, Gove and his ministers put forward a wide range of implausible justifications for "free" schools but Gove also (mis)used the PISA tables to justify his entire package of "reforms".

On the detailed points:

i) Apart from unfairly caricaturing the Tories, you greatly overplay the value of a (largely imaginary, in my view) change of "focus". To provide equally for the needs of all children in the way that Finland does would require radical reform and would certainly involve a huge reduction in the power and influence of the private sector; the ending of all selection, and a concerted effort to ensure that every school has a socially and academically balanced intake. The political difficulty of such a programme would be immense.

ii) If we are following Finland, we are hundreds of miles behind. Finland rejects nearly 90% of applicants, whereas we can't persuade enough young people to apply. Finland requires graduate trainees to spend three years on a postgraduate programme, whereas Gove set out to get people "learning on the job" and deliberately ran down university based training, paltry as it was. I have a higher opinion of Teach First than many contributors to this site but it was never envisaged as a principal route into teaching. Brett Wigdortz set it up as a graduate recruitment programme to top jobs in companies, with the proviso that people had first to commit to two years teaching in inner city schools. That's what its title means: if you are a high flyer who is destined for the board room, why not give something back and "teach first". Perhaps because it was so unashamedly elitist, the idea took off and it is currently the second most popular graduate recruitment scheme. Nevertheless only 50% of its recruits actually stay in teaching. Gove has actually attacked on many occasions the idea that teachers need to be professionally qualified and has come up with whacky schemes, such as involving the military. We now have a teacher recruitment crisis and an even worse retention crisis. Following Finland? I don't think so.

iii) It's not true that we've never really done rote learning - it's how I got through nearly all my O-levels and A-levels. It certainly does have its place but the kind of examination system that Gove favours overemphasises factual recall at the expense of understanding. Indeed, if we were truly following Finland, we would be abandoning formal examinations until the age of 18, instead of inflicting them on children throughout their school lives. I certainly don't think Gove would see himself as a Gradgrind - his model is Matthew Arnold - but nor do I think he has any grasp of how children learn and I don't think his use of terms such as "deep learning" is based on any thought out philosophical position.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 02/12/2015 - 10:41

Barry - teacher training in England nowhere matches Finland's. How can Teach First's six weeks of summer school prior to a couple of years' on-the-job training match Finland's several years of intellectual and practical training comprising subject knowledge with teaching theory? And neither can a one-year PGCE or the various ramifications of school based teacher training.

In any case, Teach First only supplies about 6% of trainee teachers. And Durham University's done an evaluation of TF which hasn't been published yet. Has anybody any idea if and when it will ever become public?

That said, you're right that teachers are better qualified than ever in terms of degrees. But that's not the same as being a properly-qualified teacher.

Barry Wise's picture
Wed, 02/12/2015 - 10:49


Of all the cavalier uses of statistics for sundry political effects, one of the most blatant must surely be the rhetoric surrounding the current recruitment "crisis".

In 2014 the number of teachers in England reached an all time high. The period 2013-14 saw an increase of 1.2%, representing an extra 5,200 FTE teachers employed, bringing the total to 454.9K FTE.

The number of vacancies, 1030, was low, representing a vacancy rate of only 0.3%.

Given that >5k jobs had been created and filled in the previous 12 months, this isn’t even a drama, let alone a crisis.

Meanwhile, there are more teaching assistants, more support staff and pupil teacher ratios have improved further.

96.6% of teachers are now graduates.

95.5% have QTS.

I think we can both remember times when things were somewhat worse than this, Michael!


Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 02/12/2015 - 11:26

Barry - you're right that teacher stats have been used blatantly - but that's to deny there is a serious problem in recruitment and retention. Yes, there are more teachers but there are also more pupils. The number of vacancies is masked by the number of posts filled by temporary or supply teachers.

But initial teacher training is in chaos with a fragmented system and some subjects not attracting sufficient candidates. FullFact found the proportion of teachers who didn't even enter the profession rose from 12% in 2005 to 30% in 2012. And more teachers left to teach in International Schools than did a PGCE course in 2014/15.

Sir Michael Wilshaw acknowledged there was a problem in recruitment:

'Unfortunately, good recruits are not being attracted in sufficient numbers and too few go to the areas that need them most.'

'The latest figures on new entrants into postgraduate training are not encouraging. Most subjects in secondary education are below target, with the sciences, languages, computing and design and technology particularly badly hit.'

I'm surprised, therefore, that you claim there isn't 'even a drama'.

Michael Pyke's picture
Mon, 07/12/2015 - 13:41

Yes, I can remember when times were worse but those times are rapidly returning!

As well as problems in teacher recruitment, we have a growing problem of retention. The situation was already bad in 2005 under Labour, with 20% of NQTs quitting within the first year. By 2011 that figure had risen to 40% and is now approaching 50%. Whatever explanations are put forward for this state of affairs, it represents a vast waste of public money.

Barry Wise's picture
Wed, 02/12/2015 - 13:14


Sometimes you give the impression that you think that if something is the slightest bit problematic or sub-optimal, then someone must be blamed or structures and processes radically overhauled. In most areas of life people who run organizations treat problems and difficulties and the sub-optimal as NORMAL challenges that it is their job to either overcome or work round.

You say above that initial teacher training is "in chaos" and provide a link. When we follow that link we learn:

The total number of new postgraduate trainees was actually slightly higher [this year} than last year, and recruitment to primary courses exceeded target.

Admittedly, recruitment against target to secondary training courses dropped from 94% to 82%. But ‘chaos’ is an OTT word to use, particularly when we compare the staff recruitment challenges in other public services where vacancy rates are hugely higher (9% for General Practitioner Partners; 10% for qualified Nurses; 15% for police sergeants and constables in parts of the Metropolitan Police area) than the 0.3% for schools.

No drama, no crisis. Just problems to be dealt with.

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 03/12/2015 - 08:22

Barry - OK, 'chaos' was hyperbole, but there is still a serious problem as Sir Michael admitted. And it's a little more significant than 'NORMAL challenges'.

Teacher supply must be seen in the round. It's not just recruitment, it's about retention. It's about the many varied routes into teaching which have fragmented training and increase the risk of being unsustainable. Are training schools going to recruit the same number of trainees every year to ensure consistency in overall supply or just 'grow their own' and recruit on an ad hoc basis?). It's about the number of trained teachers who don't enter the profession. It's about the Government talking up school-based training and undermining university teacher training courses. Once these courses have gone and once expertise has been lost, it's unlikely they will return.

Rather more than 'the slightest bit problematic'.

Janet Downs's picture
Sat, 05/12/2015 - 10:18

Barry - not everyone agrees with you that there is no looming crisis in teacher recruitment.

ASCL: ‘teacher supply, is now one of the most significant issues affecting schools and their communities.’

‘The root causes of the current situation include the failure of the DfE to recognise the once emerging problem of teacher supply which is now a crisis…

Schools Week (Dec 4, article not available on line) quotes Katharine Vincent, programme leader for secondary school trainees at the UCL Institute of Education saying the new controls on recruitment were an ‘utter shambles’. Policy changes were made ‘on the hoof’ and not thought through.

Professor John Howson told Schools Week the Government appeared to be ‘making it up as they go along’.

Sam Twiselton, director of Sheffield’s Institute of Education said the sudden changes prompted providers to bring interviews forward. It had ‘made everybody panic’.

So, no drama then?

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